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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2004 May;59(3):S128-37.

Decline in material family support for older people in urban Ghana, Africa: understanding processes and causes of change.

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  • 1Institute of Ageing, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.



Material family support for older people in Ghana, as in other African countries, has declined in recent decades, exposing increasing numbers especially of urban elderly to destitution and poverty. The nature and causes of this decline remain poorly understood, in particular the relative role of growing material constraints, as proposed by political economy perspectives, or weakening traditional values, as suggested by modernization perspectives. This article develops an interpretively grounded understanding of the processes underpinning the decline specifically in Accra, Ghana's capital.


A qualitative investigation of the perspectives of a three-generational respondent sample, spanning major income, ethnic, and gender groups, was conducted.


The decline has been underpinned by two major shifts: (a) a declining resource capacity of the young to provide support and (b) a shift in the basis of filial support toward an increasing dependence on parents' past conduct and the principle of reciprocity. Normative expectations emphasizing self-reliance in old age are emerging as a result of the decline.


The shifts have been caused by a complex interaction between growing resource constraints and changing values not captured by existing accounts. The dominant factor driving the change in support norms and patterns has been the change in families' material circumstances.

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